by carl wilson

M.I.A.: The Dean Dives In

Today in the Village Voice, Robert Christgau did a little of the hard digging on the question of M.I.A.'s supposed "nowhere gal" status, attempting to integrate her Sri Lankan backstory, migrancy, art-school and music: "M.I.A.'s documentable experience connects her to world poverty in a way few Western whites can grasp. [...] The decoratively arrayed, pastel-washed tigers, soldiers, guns, armored vehicles, and fleeing civilians that bedeck her album are images, not propaganda the same stuff that got her nominated for an Alternative Turner Prize in 2001. They're now assumed to be incendiary because, unlike art buyers, rock and roll fans are assumed to be stupid. M.I.A. [...] feels the honorable compulsion to make art out of her contradictions."

That doesn't cover all the issues under debate (search M.I.A. down in the left margin for past posts, and links to other bloggers' salvos) but it gets back to my earlier suggestions that (a) ignorance of Indian Ocean issues is part of why some western listeners lean to exoticizing her background and others to dismissing its significance; and (b) while real experience obviously affects art, sitting at a distance in judgment on the relative "realness" of one person's experience ("aha! she went to school!") is crap. Seductive, but terrible for trashing all the dynamics of experience and influence, identity and mobility, documentary and artifice, in the artist's work. (As for "chocolate-covered raisins," I give you Eppy.) (A little later: Ah, just found his record review - it's MIAXgaupalooza! - which nicely inverts it to, "She went to school? Fantastic.")

If the question is what we are talking about when we talk about M.I.A., her responsibility for the answer is partial at best. (Is she even part of the "we," or is her own account just used as raw material for symbolic-class production?) The unease around novel, ever-more-rapidly-shifting geographical and racial boundaries, groups and relations - the cultural upheavals of globalization versus those of mass underclass migration - is simultaneously part of the pleasure in her music (the release of the repressed) and part of the anxiety around it (the impulse to reterritorialization). Reactions to music coming out of "the ghetto" in any society - a place fixed on the map, a known quantity or at least "known unknown" - tend to align more predictably to political and cultural stances. Not that Xgau's view doesn't reflect an ideology of its own. So, of course, does my line. But his piece(s) makes an effort to work through the symptomatic spasms, and as he puts it, "In these perilous, escapist days, that alone is quite a lot."

(Thanks to John Shaw for the alert.)

The Writ | Posted by zoilus on Wednesday, March 02 at 1:44 AM | Linking Posts | Comments (1)



Great blog you have, Carl.

Posted by Gunnar on March 2, 2005 12:05 PM




Zoilus by Carl Wilson